Connecting the Dots

Did The U.S.-Cuba Deal Help Drive A Rebel Ceasefire in Colombia?

The thaw between Washington and Cuba finally begins to close a chapter of the Cold War. A ceasefire by leftist rebels in Colombia could close the last one.

On the same day that the United States and Cuba announced an historic renewal of diplomatic ties, FARC guerrillas, a Marxist rebel group that has been engaged in a five decade long civil conflict with the Colombian government, announced an indefinite ceasefire and cessation of hostilities after two years of peace dialogues conducted in Havana.

This announcement and its timing may be purely coincidental or it may indicate deeper machinations aimed at closing the chapter on the last vestiges of the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere.

“We have resolved to declare a unilateral ceasefire and end hostilities for an indefinite period of time, which should be transformed into an armistice,” the FARC said via their website.

Cuba is the host nation and guarantor to the ongoing peace dialogues between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government’s negotiating team, which have been talking in the Cuban capital since November 2012.

How much influence Cuba had in the decision taken by the FARC is up for speculation since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has been making conciliatory overtures in his statements to the press in recent weeks. Now the question in Colombia, is, will a bilateral ceasefire be announced in coming days?

In the past, Santos has been stubbornly opposed to a bilateral ceasefire, but his position on the issue may be shifting. In an interview with W Radio in Bogota on Wednesday morning before the news about Cuba broke, he said that he was waiting for concrete actions from the FARC that would enable a deceleration of the conflict. Less than six hours later, the FARC potentially came good on the challenge.

It’s worth remembering that since negotiations began two years ago the FARC has declared five separate ceasefires (during presidential elections and Christmas holiday periods) and this latest gesture could either serve as ammunition for spoilers of the process or represent the point of no return in a mature negotiation proceeding as one might hope.

But this historic “indefinite” unilateral ceasefire is the first occasion that the guerrilla has done so whilst peace talks are in process, so the FARC’s declaration that it’s “now or never” would seem to ring true.

However, Colombians cannot celebrate just yet, though, as the FARC communiqué clearly stated—in what can be read as an attempt to force the President’s hand in declaring a bilateral ceasefire—that the ceasefire will end if the Colombian military attacks any of their forces.

The FARC has a long way to go to win the confidence of the Colombian people. The last time they were provided with space to move—President Andres Pastrana’s government ceded an area of country roughly the size of Switzerland within which to hold negotiations between 1998-2002—the guerrillas used it to re-arm, retrain and recruit, leaving them in a stronger position when the talks inevitably collapsed.

So can Colombians finally dream of a lasting and sustainable peace in 2015? They deserve it. The conflict with the FARC is one of the longest running in the world, and has killed up to 220,000 people and displaced millions from their homes.

There is still a long way to go, however. Agreements, albeit partial ones, have been agreed to on the issues of agricultural reform, political participation and illicit drugs. (The trickiest items having been placed in the “freezer” to be addressed at a later date.)

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Still, Santos would have you believe that peace with the FARC is possible. Certainly his twitter feed regarding the news of Havana and Washington speaks volumes.

“Cuba and the USA are an example of however large the issues which divide us, with dialogue and perseverance it is possible to resolve them.”

As if to highlight just how difficult these negotiations are, even Santos’ twitter feed isn’t without issue in the talks.

“Allow us to take this opportunity to call to attention in a clear and direct manner to President Santos for having shown, once again his pleasure on twitter, regarding the deaths of some of our comrades in arms and ideological brothers last Sunday,” the FARC said in their communiqué announcing the ceasefire. “War cannot be a motive for enjoyment just shame.”

But if the U.S. and Cuba can reach agreement, perhaps it’s possible for Bogotá to reach an understanding with FARC—despite the president’s twitter feed.